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Is Cleary on the Thurston trajectory?

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Roar Rookie
1st June, 2021

It has been only three seasons since arguably the greatest rugby league player, Johnathon Thurston, retired.

The stats do not lie. Thurston is a four-time Dally M player of the year, four-time Dally M halfback of the year, four-time Rugby League Players Association player of the year, a golden boot winner, a Clive Churchill medal winner and much more.

When he retired I did not think I would see a player that could have the potential to reach those heights.

However, in 2021, Nathan Cleary is starting to become the type of player who could do just that.

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Nathan Cleary is currently 23 years old and has already featured in a grand final and helped New South Wales secure back-to-back State of Origin series victories in 2018 and 2019. While Thurston won his first grand final in only his third season with the Canterbury Bulldogs, he was only an interchange player who found his spot in the squad due to an injured Steve Price. In 2005, at 22 years of age, Thurston signed with the North Queensland Cowboys, where his career really took off.

Thurston made his State of Origin debut in 2005 after a strong first half of the season at halfback with the Cowboys. Although they lost this series, Thurston would go on to keep his halves spot for many years. He also took the Cowboys to their first grand final, where they lost to the Wests Tigers. Thurston also ended the year as halfback of the year and Dally M player of the year.

Cleary won the halfback of the year award in 2020 and was extremely unlucky to miss out on Dally M player of the year honours, which went to Jack Wighton. This year, however, is looking more promising for him.

In 2021 Cleary has led the Penrith Panthers to 12 consecutive wins and is currently four points clear of second place in the Dally M leaderboard. The 12 straight wins are of course a team effort, but Cleary has led his team around with his direction and kicking game.

With Cleary and the Panthers looking as sharp as ever, is this the year that makes Nathan Cleary the best player in the world?


If he can lead New South Wales to a series win, the Penrith Panthers to a historic grand final win and claim the Dally M, I would have no problem declaring him the best rugby league player in the world and maybe, in ten years, the best player of the last decade.